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'Oprah's Big Give' keeps on giving zzz's

Rick Kushman
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

It's kind of a big TV weekend with a handful of new or high-profile shows on the scene, though I say "kind of" because only one series is any good, and it's not the one from Oprah.

Wait, was that thunder?

Calm down. Whatever power that was, I'm not trashing Oprah. I'm not even trashing ABC's show, "Oprah's Big Give" (at 9 Sunday) - not entirely, anyway - because it does try to do good and help some people. Can't get enough of that.

The problem is, "Big Give" comes from the over-used reality-show handbook. It's got a couple flash-tempered contestants, some trash talking, players re-explaining events to the camera, and, of course, a panel of judges - one of them British - sending someone home each week.

It's so worn and cheesy, that you'll get cynical and snippy. That's the horrible part. "Oprah Big Give" will make you cynical about charity. Who wants that? Next, you'll feel guilty and terrible about yourself, just as I, indeed, feel terrible carping about this show.

Still, here's just some of the cheesy. Oprah says they searched "coast to coast" to get contestants, and put them through "weeks of intensive auditions." OK, sure, except we see none of that. What did they do, stand in front of the judges and sing about charity?

We meet 10 finalists who are divvied into pairs, and each team gets a name of a needy someone and a clue. The teams have to find their needy person and somehow make things better. Then they're critiqued by the judges, and someone gets fired, um, voted off, uh, you know.

It plays like "The Apprentice" meets "The Amazing Race" meets "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," except less interesting. That's the other bad thing. You'll get bored, and that'll make you feel terrible, too, being bored by charity.

If you've seen "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," you know what the last 15 minutes are like. The people in need learn they're getting some help as their entire block turns out to cheer, all while emotional music plays and the tears flow everywhere. You'll want to be happy for them. You'll so not want to be cynical at this point. Still, it'll happen, but it won't be your fault. Blame this schmaltzy, rip-off of a show.

By the way, the players don't know it, Oprah swears, but the winner gets $1 million at the end of this eight-week series. Not to keep being cynical, but I hope that person gives some of it to charity.

___

Now here's the good show. On Sunday, we'll reach the second-to-last episode of HBO's thundering, sly, brilliant drama "The Wire" (at 9 p.m.). First thing, a warning: If you didn't see last week's doings, look away. Skip right down to the next item.

Everybody still here know about Omar? Because I need to say, you knew it had to happen. Omar (Michael K. Williams), one of the most heroic characters on this show, had to die. There are no heroes in "The Wire," only survivors, and surely you can't be both.

Omar's shooting was true to the story and to the messages imbedded in this series: The corruption, the callousness, the system gets you in the end, and, anyone who really cares - about their job, or in this case, a code - anyone who butts heads with that broken system will not survive.

"The Wire" is the best thing on TV, and one of the best shows ever, and one of the many reasons is that it doesn't take short cuts or give in to sentiment. If you're any kind of fan, Omar was one of the people you rooted for, but you had to know his fall was inevitable.

This authentic and mesmerizing story of government and bureaucracy, of ambition and ruthlessness, of real life in the urban America that most of us don't want to know, is about the quicksand that is the streets, and politics and business, too.

You also knew Omar's death wasn't going to be glorious. There is no glory on the street. "The Wire" doesn't play that game. He was buying cigarettes and shot from behind by a nobody, and a kid at that.

Omar was a legend and a bogeyman on the corners of West Baltimore, but in the other urban America, the one we do know, his death wasn't worthy of the four-inch hole the Baltimore Sun had to fill on an inside page.

___

Fox is pretending it's all excited about the new comedy premiering Sunday called "Unhitched" (at 9:30), but it's not. This is a burn-off.

The show was created by the Farrelly Brothers - their films include "There's Something About Mary," "Dumb & Dumber" and "Shallow Hal" - so you know it's probably going to have some streaks of gross or stupid.

Honestly, I'm a fan of stupid comedy, but it needs to be stupid-smart. This show is just stupid-stupid, filled with cliches, predictable situations and nothing worth wasting your time on.

___

Finally, if for some reason you care, FX, the network that makes so many unique, appealingly deep dramas, brings back its one total swing-and-miss, "Dirt," on Sunday (at 10 p.m.).

That's the show with Courteney Cox playing the editor of a Hollywood tabloid magazine, and that's supposed to show the grit behind the glamour of show business.

Except it's done in such cartoony, mean-spirited style, and Cox's tyrannical Lucy is possibly the most unsympathetic character on TV, though she gets a lot of competition from almost everyone else in "Dirt."

This isn't a world you want to visit and these aren't people you want to be around. The only intriguing thing about the show is the mystery of why FX renewed it.


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